PAWTUCKET, R.I. – In a tight vote that mirrors the outcome of the outstanding 2014 Little East Conference baseball season, Eastern Connecticut was selected by the league's head coaches as the favorite in the 2015 Baseball Preseason Poll. The defending league-champion Warriors received three first place votes with a total of 44 points to narrowly edge Southern Maine, which tabulated two first place tallies and 43 points. A close third place went to UMass Dartmouth, which also received three top votes and 40 total points.
Both Eastern Connecticut and Southern Maine are also showcasing on a national level, ranking in the top-20 in the NCBWA/D3Baseball.com Preseason Poll, released on Jan. 21. The Huskies sit at No. 7, earning 391 points, while the Warriors ranked in at No. 19 with 189 points. In the preseason Collegiate Baseball poll, ECSU slipped into the No. 17 spot, while USM was again ranked No. 7.
Eastern Connecticut enters 2015 seeking its league-best ninth Little East championship. Head coach Matt LaBranche's second season looks continue the success of 2014, which saw the Warriors go 32-9 with an 11-3 slate in conference play. The Warriors return 14 players and five starters, including First Team All-Conference junior pitchers Patrick O'Neill and Adam Merritt. Last year's pitching staff led the conference in ERA at 2.79, with Merritt pacing the squad in relief with six saves and 18 games finished. Offensively, the Warriors will return enough bats to continue the tempo from last season, which saw the squad finish with a batting average of .301. ECSU's key returning threats include seniors Joe Perez and Corey Keane, along with junior Tim Budd.
The Warriors hope to reach the postseason for the 34th time in program history and seek their 13th regional title. Last season, ECSU entered the Harwich, Mass. Regional as the top seed before bowing out after the first two games.
Southern Maine advanced to the NCAA Division III World Series in 2014 for the eighth time in program history, winning the Harwich, Mass. Regional after securing an at-large bid. 31st-year head coach Ed Flaherty returns several decorated players from that squad. 2014 First Team All-Conference and All-Region shortstop Sam Dexter looks to pace the Huskies at the plate after leading the league with 81 hits last season, and will be joined by 2014 Little East Rookie of the Year recipient Paul McDonough, who sat just behind Dexter with 72 hits. On the mound, the Huskies return several crucial arms, including last season's Pitcher of the Year Tyler Leavitt, who pitched 63 innings with a 3.14 ERA.
In third place, UMass Dartmouth and head coach Bob Prince return significant experience across the lineup, including three First Team All-Little East honorees from last season. Outfielder Ryan Medeiros is back for his senior year after earning conference Player of the Year accolades in 2014. Medeiros paced the 21-22 Corsairs in hits (68), runs scored (46) and total bases (101). Also looking to have a big senior season are third baseman George Agostini, catcher/outfielder Cory DeMedeiros and first baseman Alberto Vasquez. Junior righty Steve Colella will command UMD on the mound after leading the conference with a 2.06 ERA last season.
Completing the preseason poll rankings were UMass Boston (28 points), Plymouth State (22), Keene State (17), Rhode Island College (17) and Western Connecticut (13). The non-conference schedule starts next week, with conference series beginning on March 27.
The Little East Conference will sponsor a 14-game, double round-robin conference format. The top six teams in the final regular-season standings will qualify for the 2015 Little East Baseball Championship. The top seed will host the four-day, double-elimination tournament with the conference champion earning automatic qualification into the 2015 NCAA Division III Championship.
Formed in 1986, the Little East serves as New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. Featuring 19 championship sports, the Little East sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes. Our eight state colleges and universities dedicate themselves to an ongoing fulfillment of the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship, and citizenship.
2015 Little East Conference Baseball Preseason Poll
|Institution||First Place Votes||Total Points|
|1. Eastern Connecticut||3||44|
|2. Southern Maine||2||43|
|3. UMass Dartmouth||3||40|
|4. UMass Boston||28|
|5. Plymouth State||22|
|T-6. Keene State||17|
|T-6. Rhode Island College||17|
|7. Western Connecticut||13|